Who's responsible for PCC's rotted roof?
Source: http://pamplinmedia.com, April 4, 2017
By: Nick Budnick
While PCC has blamed the construction company that built the Newberg building, claiming at least $3.4 million to cover costs, the construction company has instead faulted the college for its design of the building and accused school officials of failing to address the roof’s problems in a timely way.
Just four years after Portland Community College used taxpayer-approved bond funds to build a $7.2 million green building in Newberg, severe rotting of the roof endangered students and forced the college to spend more than $3 million to build a new roof.
But now the lingering dispute over who should pay for that replacement roof could complicate PCC’s plans to go to voters for a new bond measure in November.
While the college has blamed the construction company that built the Newberg building, claiming at least $3.4 million to cover costs, the construction company has instead faulted PCC. The contractor blamed PCC for its design of the building and accused school officials of failing to address the roof’s problems in a timely way.
Despite the contractor’s claims, and accusations that the college’s bond construction program covered up its mismanagement of the project, a PCC spokeswoman says the college can be trusted with the public’s money.
“The college has completed more than $300,000,000 in construction projects across its district, with this being the single claim of significance,” said spokeswoman Kate Chester in an email. “As such, the 2008 bond program is highly successful from a construction outcomes perspective, and it’s a program in which the college has strong confidence.”
In 2008, a new Newberg campus was one of many amenities promised to voters during PCC’s bond campaign, helping win approval of $374 million construction bond.
College officials chose to build not just a green building, but a “net zero” building that would generate as much energy as it consumed. Key to that design was the use of prefabricated, insulated foam panels in the roof and walls to save money.
The building opened for classes in the fall of 2011, but after just three years, concerns over moisture in the roof that was causing the wood framing of the panels to rot caused the PCC board to hire a contractor to probe for troubles.
In June 2015, based on of widespread rot and the danger of collapse, the PCC board approved a construction contract to put a new roof on the Newberg Center.
A few months later, a longtime PCC maintenance manager went public with The Oregonian to say the construction problems were foreseen. Steve Borcherding said that as construction was underway in 2011, he warned the school that the foam panels used for the roof had triggered massive rotting problems in Alaska, triggering numerous lawsuits. He suggested a technique now required by Juneau city code for the panels, to improve ventilation and reduce moisture.
The college went ahead with its initial design anyway, based on what the PCC bond construction manager, Linda Degman, said were assurances from its architect and others.
A July 2012 memo from the now-deceased director of Facility Management Services, Tim Donahue, blamed the roof failure on the years of resistance by the PCC bond program to basic oversight practices, such as construction inspectors.
“If PCC had moved to embrace this industry-wide practice 2-3 years ago most of these issues at Newberg may not have materialized,” Donahue wrote. He said that moisture levels were alarmingly high soon after construction, and accused PCC bond construction officials of “covering up” mismanagement of the project.
He warned that if the college didn’t extend the contractor’s warranty period, PCC could be stuck in costly litigation.
Instead, the warranty was allowed to expire.
Now the college’s arbitration case with the main contractor on the roof construction in 2011 aims to settle the issue of who was responsible.
Documents obtained by Emma Meshell of the PCC student newspaper The Bridge show that in February 2016, the college filed a legal demand and arbitration claim to cover costs that were not yet final.
In the claim, PCC faulted the contractors for the rotted roof, saying the roof panels repeatedly were left out in the rain in early 2011, then installed before they dried. Not only that, but the roof panels were the wrong size and improperly installed, the college claimed.
In its June 2016 reply, R&H and Colas replied that PCC was at fault, blaming the college’s plans for the building, poor maintenance and for “failing to promptly address or mitigate” the problems.
While the college freely shared the claim relating its side of the story with the student newspaper, it refused to release the contractor’s response criticizing PCC until the Portland Tribune filed an Oregon Public Records Law appeal with the Multnomah County District Attorney.
An arbitrator will hold a hearing on PCC’s claim in August.
That will be shortly before a new bond measure goes before voters. In January 2017, the PCC board considered a plan prepared by its political consulting firm, Wheelhouse NW, involving campaign messaging, fundraising and polling in preparing for the Nov. 7 election.
Chester, the PCC spokeswoman, said the college and its bond construction program are proud of its work.
“The expansion and improvements made possible through the 2008 bond program have created exceptional and beautiful facilities that are advancing PCC’s educational mission and contributing to community vitality across the district it serves. PCC’s Newberg Center is among these facilities,” she said.